Singing and Saying: “I Love You”

Singing and Saying: “I Love You”

By: Tim Murphey

I’ll love you forever,

I’ll like you for always.

As long as I’m living

my baby you’ll be.

During my time teaching in Asia, to take our relationships to a deeper and more personal level, I would read to my students Love You Forever (Munsch 1986, 54th printing 1997), a wonderful bestselling children’s book by Canadian author Robert Munsch. I would also get them to sing the short, 4-line song “Love You Forever” as it re-occurred every three or four pages in the book, sung first by a mother to her baby, and then later by the grown-up baby to his brand-new baby. Later, a PowerPoint of the book became available so I would not have to walk around the room showing the pictures in the book. There is a version of the PowerPoint here.

In my university EFL classes, we also usually had rotating pairs and “getting to know you” questions at the beginning of classes that could often be answered with a short songlet (Murphey, 2018). I would often ask them to ask their partners “Who do you love?” and they could easily answer with this song to their partner if they wanted to, or to talk more about family and friends.

Just pause a moment now and imagine your students answering the question “Who do you love?” with a new partner each class and perhaps answering “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.” What usually happened, however, is that both partners sang the song together and giggled together at the end (my eyes water even now as I describe these things). Or better yet, imagine your whole class singing to each other: “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be” as mine often did as I read the book to them.

(Japanese version: Aishteruyo, naniga atte-mo, Ikite-iru kagiri, itoshi ko yo.)

I did my PhD research back in the 1980s on the use of music and song in language teaching and to this day I am still amazed at the results. From a corpus of the top 50 songs in a “then” current pop-hits-list from England, I found that three of the most common words in the songs were “love”, “I”, and “you” (of course, often said together: “I love you!”). But even more interesting is that exact people, times, and places were absent from the songs, which makes the songs singable to anyone by anyone, at any time or place imaginable (Murphey 1990), which explains why singing “I love you” is so popular with nearly everyone.

On the other hand, saying “I love you” can be a scary thing that some people may never have the courage to do, especially, probably among males in macho cultures. So, I tell my students my story of being allowed to go to Europe for a summer before my last year of high school by my father, who I lived alone with in Florida, and who had lived several years as a young man in Europe as well. My father thought that I would be spending most of my time in youth hostels in Switzerland; however, a new friend taught me how to hitch hike on my second day there and I ended up going down to the Mediterranean at the bottom of France and then up through Italy and around Switzerland, hitch hiking all by myself. After two weeks of hitch hiking, it occurred to me that my father might be worried about me and so I dared to make a trans-Atlantic call (this was in 1970). I think I woke him up in the middle of the night and just told him not to worry and that I was hitch-hiking around Europe. Near the end of the phone call, I don’t know what came over me, but I dared to say to my dad, “Dad, I love you.” There was a silence at first on the line, as men in our cultural surroundings did not often, if ever, say, “I love you” to each other. Then, he came back and said, “I love you too, son.” Then we hung up and I found myself smiling with watery eyes. And to this day that is one of my favorite memories.

My students, mostly in Japan, have told me that they didn’t say such intimate things in Japanese to their parents. Many of them were on their own, living in dormitories or apartments as university students (some realizing how much they missed their parents). So, I gave them the optional homework to call their parents and dare to say “I love you” in English at the end of their phone calls home or to sing the song to them in English or Japanese. And an amazing number of them did (or said they did) and wrote about it in their action logs (Miyake-Warkentin, et al., 2020; Murphey 1993; Murphey et al., 2014; Woo & Murphey, 1999;) although I told them it was optional and not mandatory. For me, the logs were lovely to read and inspirational as well. Several students each semester said they even told the story to their mother or father and taught them how to sing the song. Others borrowed the book to share it with their families at home. And one even found a copy for me in Japanese.

A funny thing happened on the way to class!

If looks could obliterate, I’d have been annihilated to the sun and back. It was the first day of class, and I could tell a particular student hated me and my teaching by her glare! But, she wasn’t in our next morning section. I went home and told my wife that “the student” wasn’t there. I could live a long life.

Then—she reappeared in my afternoon section the following day—with a friend. “Oh, God!” I thought. After class, her friend told me, “Balaqis absolutely loves you and your style. She even convinced me to join her. She can’t make your 8:00 class, so she switched to this section.” My soul did a dance!

From Patrick

Singing “I love you” in a song is not as big a task as saying it. Hey, it’s just part of the song! And is seldom directed at a certain person, place, or time, thus making the singer somewhat of a ghost as well. But it can be a step forward to actually saying, “I love you.” It is like language practice for the real thing, some day. Singing is like kneading the sour dough of life, you don’t want to eat it right away, but maybe later, after a bit of cooking, and some cinnamon sprinkles, you will love it!

Learning to use affectionately charged language appropriately can give students more control over their lives, their emotions, and their environments. May we all be brave enough to say it more, to dare to feel it more, and be wise enough to help others express their emotions more clearly, and deeply. May we all let more love in, and more love out! And celebrate it with all! “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.” “You” can be my Brain SIG friends, my favorite café servers, my family, the strangers down the street, or … the students in my next class, etc.


  • Miyake-Warkentin, K., Hooper, D., & Murphey, T. (2020). Student action logging creates teacher efficacy. In P. Clements, A. Krause, & R. Gentry (Eds.), JALT 2019 Proceedings.

  • Munsch, R. (1986). Love You Forever. Firefly.

  • Murphey, T. (1990). Song and music in language learning: An analysis of pop song lyrics and the use of song and music in teaching English as a Foreign Language (Ph.D. dissertation). Peter Lang Verlag, Bern, Switzerland. 1990 dissertation in Peter Lang’s European University Studies in Ed. series XI.

  • Murphey, T. (1993). Why don’t teachers learn what learners learn? Taking the guesswork out with action logging. English Teaching Forum 31(1), 6-10.

  • Murphey, T. (2018). Songlets for affective and cognitive self-regulation. Bulletin of the JALT Mind, Brain, and Education SIG, 4(12), Dec. 22-25.

  • Murphey, T., Barcelos, A., & de Moraes, R. (2014). Narrativizing our learning lives through action logs and newsletters. Revista Contexturas, 23, 99 – 111.,

  • Woo, L., & Murphey, T. (1999). Activating metacognition with action logs. The Language Teacher, 23 (5), 15-18.

Tim Murphey is a semi-retired freelance educator, after 50 years of teaching in Europe and Asia, at River Quest Horse Adventures in Lostine, Oregon.

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